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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Ungarische Melodie, D. 817 [3:15]
Moments musicaux, Op.94, D.780 [28:51]
Allegretto in C minor, D.915 [5:37]
Klavierstücke, D.946 [28:43]
March in E Major, D.606 [5:21]
Carlo Grante (1923 Bösendorfer Imperial piano)
rec. 2013, Studio Glanzing, Vienna
MUSIC & ARTS CD-1292 [71:53]

I must admit that before I knew of this disc, I was more familiar with Carlo Grante for playing more obscure virtuoso repertoire such as Godowsky, Busoni and thornier pieces by Liszt. However, a quick review of his discography shows that he’s also recorded some mainstream music as well including lots of Scarlatti. Here he is playing Schubert which is clearly in the latter category! I’d always also assumed that he played modern pianos however here he is using a 1923 Bösendorfer Imperial, generously provided by Eva and the late Paul Badura-Skoda.

The disc starts with the little Hungarian Melody which was also used by the composer in the much longer work for piano duet, the “Divertissement à la hongroise”, D.818. I’ve always liked this little work and Mr. Grante certainly appears to do so as well. There is plenty of humour here as it bounces along merrily. It’s not a major work, just a charming little bit of fun.

Next up are the generally light-hearted “Moments musicaux”, including the very famous no.3 (also arranged by Godowsky and recorded by Mr. Grante elsewhere in that transcription). These 6 pieces cover a range of styles and moods and are all played in an exemplary fashion. I particularly like the cheerful bounciness at the start of the first of the set, which becomes more wistful as the work progresses. The gentle rocking section at around 2 minutes seems to hint at something very profound before a return of the material from near the beginning. The second of the set is an ‘Andantino’ and this goes through various introspective passages alternating with more happy music, all held together wonderfully. Thirdly is the very famous F minor work, dispatched with suitable vivacity which seems to suit both the piano and the pianist as all the details are very clearly projected and nicely played. The 4th is in C sharp minor and to my ears sounds like a Bach fugue or similar. There is lots of interest here in the details in the counterpoint in the left hand and this comes across very well indeed. Around a minute in, the mood changes completely to a more meditative tune which sticks in your head. This makes for a great contrast to what came before – which occurs again as a conclusion to the piece, with slight modifications. I think this is probably my favourite work from the set. The fifth is a very short little ‘Allegro vivace’, and here it is certainly both. This seems to have some subliminal connection to the march for piano duet, D.819 as the left hand sounds surprisingly similar. Anyway, this rattles along nervously for only a minute and a half but is another piece that sticks in the ears. The final piece is again more thoughtful but also charming at the same time. There is a questing atmosphere here as the tune wonders around. The central section is more straightforward and is rather sunny in comparison. As before, the more profound material returns at the end to provide a suitable conclusion to the work.

The following Allegretto (track 8) is a lovely little piece. As before, and perhaps as might be expected for a relatively late Schubert work, there is some profound sounding music here and some equally lovely control of the sound. This is very genial short work and feels like it lasts longer than the playing time of 5 and a half minutes. Marvellous stuff!

The 3 Klavierstücke from D.946 were assembled by Brahms for publishing disregarding Schubert’s crossing out of a section which gave the first piece a Rondo like structure. On this disc, the part which gives the Rondo like form is expunged which gives a better picture of Schubert’s intentions for the work - there is more detail about this in the cover notes. The first piece sets off at a rate of knots, Mr. Grante’s tempo is fast but spot on and he shows no signs of struggle which isn’t surprising considering his excellent Godowsky recordings! I always find this piece a little skittish and the trick here is to balance this jumpiness with the more thoughtful sections without upsetting the mood and flow of the music. This works perfectly here, the conclusions to phrases are perfectly judged and the playing is marvellous throughout. The joining of the opening part with the hymn like section at about 2 minutes is splendid and the little runs in this part are superbly done with the pedalling perfectly judged. The transition at 7’40’’ to the material from the opening (the skittish theme I mentioned earlier) is unbelievably quiet and I think he uses both pedals. I’ve not played this piece so I don’t know if that is how it’s marked in the score but whatever the score says, this works very well. The piece builds up to a rousing crescendo before ending surprisingly wistfully and quietly. The second piece starts off much calmer and in E flat major (unlike the first which is in E flat minor). The words ‘amiable’ and ‘charming’ could be used to describe this part of this work, it sounds to me like a song without words and the melody is gorgeous, as is the playing. At 2’26’’, this changes abruptly to something much more sinister, dark and exciting. This section is full of weird details in the left hand which here are very clear and the music becomes gradually more agitated before the opening theme returns again – this is, after all, in a Rondo like structure. The opening theme comes as a welcome relief when it returns around 4’50’’. After more of this wonderful theme, there is then a really jumpy scherzo like part which serves as the middle part of the piece. This bounces along nicely and happily and is stunningly played. This section sounds as if it requires extreme delicacy in the repeated notes in the right hand and it is all presented here perfectly. This energetic section lasts for a several minutes of alternating more serious and intense music with the scherzo like tunes by way of some weird key changes returns. This scherzo like music gradually dissolves away into the ‘amiable’ music from the beginning which provides a delightful conclusion to this, the longest of these 3 works. The 3rd of these pieces is much more cheerful and, in comparison to the earlier works more march like, shorter and significantly louder. The opening requires quite a lot of busy fingerwork for the pianist but all is coped with perfectly here. The central part of the work is another hymn like section which is very meditative and played with great depth of feeling. This atmosphere is dispelled by some quite violent playing before the opening music returns to conclude the festivities in a very boisterous and merry way!

The final piece on the disc is a rarely heard March (D.606), this is, rather like the opening piece on the disc, a charming trifle full of grandeur and dispatched with considerable aplomb. Oddly, I wonder if Schumann was familiar with this work as there is a passage towards the end which sounds like a pre-echo of his Toccata, Op.7 ?

Overall, this is a splendid and well filled disc, the playing is marvellous throughout and the music seems to fit the nearly 100 year old piano very well. The cover notes are interesting and detailed (but have one or two typos in the track listing) and I like the hybrid plastic / cardboard case design. Mr. Grante is a superb pianist and is certainly of the right temperament for this sometimes very profound music but also more than capable of handling Schubert’s sometimes awkward piano writing. I shall be returning to this disc often as there is much to enjoy here. I wonder if Mr. Grante might like to record the late Schubert sonatas (D.958 – D.960) as I think he would make a superb job of them…

Jonathan Welsh



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